Anthony Hopkins touts character over effects

Says greenscreens makes actors look 'detached' from action

What's the downside to digital special effects and 3D movies overtaking theaters? One, at least, is that fans may lose sight of actors like Anthony Hopkins.

At 72 years old, the Oscar winner says offers of work have slowed in recent years, and he finds roles in movies such as his current "The City of Your Final Destination," to be most enjoyable because films like it "are very quiet and internal."

That is not to say that Sir Anthony doesn't care to work with big action and special effects. He performed in recent horror tale "The Wolfman" and in the computer-animated "Beowulf."

But with big-budget movies like "Avatar" or "Clash of the Titans" dominating major studio releases -- movies in which the acting is done in front of greenscreens, and sets and stunts are digitally added into the films -- character-driven dramas such as "City of Your Final Destination" get less marketing money and play on far fewer screens.

As a result, performances such as Hopkins' portrayal of an eccentric, older gentleman named Adam -- his first time playing a gay man onscreen -- often fail to reach theater audiences.

"I've done a couple of greenscreens, and if they work that's great," he said. "But now the audience is so smart, and I think you watch some movies, and you can tell it's greenscreen, and somehow that looks detached" from the acting.

That won't happen with "City of Your Final Destination," which was directed by James Ivory from a screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Along with Ivory's producing partner Ismail Merchant, who died in 2005, the trio were responsible for hit dramas such as "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day," the 1993 movie that earned Hopkins his second Oscar nomination. He also won for playing killer Hannibal Lecter in 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs."

But Merchant Ivory productions fell on harder times in the late 1990s and 2000s as action movies and comic book flicks gained ever greater clout in Hollywood. Their "The Golden Bowl" (2000) and "Le Divorce" (2003) bombed at the boxoffice.

"City of Your Final Destination," which was made in 2007 but is just now seeing a limited release in major U.S. cities over the next several months, tells of a young man who wants to write a biography of a deceased novelist named Jules Gund.

So he travels to Gund's home in a rural section of a Latin American country to obtain permission from the writer's family. There he meets the writer's sister Caroline (Laura Linney), his live-in mistress Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and gay brother Adam (Hopkins), who shares the guest house with his lover.

What plays out is a sort of family drama that, at every twist and turn, peels back the facade of the Gund family and of the writer himself.

The setting is lush, the acting from top craftsmen and women, and the directing and writing by a team that was once at the top of Hollywood's pecking order. In short, it is a movie that, perhaps only for now, is out of favor in Hollywood and confined to so-called "art house" theaters.

"(James) casts people because he trusts actors to do what they do," Hopkins said. "It's a little like playing tennis. It's kind of an easy game. I don't like tension and examination and analyzing (a scene), just do the damn thing."

"City of Your Final Destination" is Ivory's first film since the death of Merchant, and Hopkins said the producer's big, friendly personality was missed on the set in Argentina.

He said that on Merchant Ivory projects, the producer "was a big presence and one of those rare characters who could just get films made."

Hopkins recalled that Merchant approached him about a film, once, and he asked Merchant where would he get the money to finance it. The producer's answer: "Wherever it is now."

And for now, in Hollywood, the money is chasing action, animation, comic books and 3D, and that means it gets tougher to find work for guys like Hopkins.

"I have slowed down a lot," said Hopkins, who was knighted by the British for his legendary career. "I just work when the work comes in."
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